In case you were wondering, I am safely in Morocco.
I’ve only been here like three days, but a lot has happened, so Imma try to cover it all in some way or another.
We had a typical super long travel daygetting to Morocco: an eight hour flight in which I watched three movies and 4 episodes of Parks and Rec in a row without sleeping, then a layover in the super confusing Paris airport, a slightly delayed plane, a two and a half our flight to Rabat, an hour long wait at that airport because some people’s bags never made it out of DC (thankfully mine did), then a two and a half hour bus ride to Meknes. By the end of it all we were approaching 24 hours of travel and I had abut 2 hours of sleep under my belt. Once we arrived in Meknes we were whisked straight to the school, where we met our host families and were taken home. My family consists of my host mom, Attica, and her husband and 28 year old son, both of whom are only around a few days a week because they work in different cities. I have a roommate in the program, so the two of us are playing fun charade games together trying to figure out what is going on sometimes. Why is this necessary when I have studied Arabic for three years and lived in Egypt previously. Stay tuned in the Darija section of today’s tour… Anyways I live in what is essentially a suburb of the city, about 20 minutes away from the school by bus. There are 7 other host families in the same neighborhood, so they were nice enough to chip in together for a bus that takes all of the CLS students to and from school. This is really convenient, though a little limiting because I can’t just walk out into the city the way that I was able to in Cairo. Anyways, we got to this house at about 5 o’clock on Wednesday and rather than just immediately pass out, we ended up staying up until around 11 talking with our host brother and mother and getting a crash course in Moroccan Arabic. This included some late night tea and popcorn at a point when I was ready to drop. Living with a host family has really proven the warnings that Arab families love to feed their guests; I have been eating a solid 4 meals a day since I got here, leaving each one feeling like I am ready to burst after being told multiple times to keep eating. If I can’t gain weight here, than it is literally impossible. Slightly out of chronological order, today a few of the families in my neighborhood got together to have a Friday lunch, where we all sat around and ate couscous Moroccan style.
It is worth noting that that plate is about 2 feet in diameter and it is eaten straight out of the group dish by all of the people sitting around the table. After this particular meal two huge trays of sliced watermelon were brought out, followed by delicious Arabic tea and popcorn. So yeah, the food is great, and there is a lot of it.
The day after we got to Meknes we trooped into school at 9 am to take our Arabic placement exams, which seemed pretty daunting to us all, but didn’t end up being too horrible. Taking an exam without having to worry about a grade is actually fairly painless. I ended up getting placed in the highest level for class today, and let me tell you, I got my ass kicked quite a bit in class today. This will definitely be a very challenging academic experience and I have a lot of work to do to keep up with some of the really talented people in my program. After the placement exam we took a small tour around the city, which is beautiful, and then had to settle in for one last final orientation seminar. Instead of talking about that, here are some cool pictures from the city and from the longer tour that we took later.
This is a view of what is sorta the center of the new city, which was built after the French came in and decided that they wanted a more European style neighborhood. It’s not exactly Cairo, and that is what I really like about it; you can still see the sky and trees and enjoy the weather without listening to constant honking.
This is Bab Mansour, one of the biggest tourist sites in Meknes. The old city is surrounded by a wall and this is the biggest door through that wall, awesomely decorated and nowadays it actually has a little art gallery in the interior because the wall is so thick.
After the tour we went to the headquarters of AALIM, the program that is in charge of our education and had a group dinner immediately prior to making a language pledge that states that we will only speak Arabic and/or Darija during the course of the program. This obviously limits the things we are able to discuss, both among ourselves and with the various English-speaking people throughout the city. It’s kinda intimidating. And what, you say, is the difference between Darija and Arabic? A whole hell of a lot, let me tell you. Darija is the name for the language spoken in Morocco, and it is a whole mix of Arabic, French, and a little Spanish. So there’s all kinds of new words for words that I already know in Arabic, and the conjugations right now seem really crazy to me, like nigh-unpronounceable. They have also added some new letters to the Arabic alphabet to allow for the French sound in the language. The majority of people here only speak Darija, and maybe French, so it can be rough going for someone like me who knows neither of these languages. I had really hoped that I could get by with my Egyptian, but no go with that either. O well, it will really force me to pick up the language, and the extra classes that I am getting from my host family should really come in handy. My host mom told me that she wants us to be the best of the group in the neighborhood at Darija, so I’ve got someone in the ring with me.
Classes start for real next week, and we will also be meeting our language partners, who are students our age who will be acting as yet another source of language practices. I have a feeling that it’s gonna be a little rough going for a bit, but on the whole I am still super excited for the upcoming two months and will have more for you soon!